Further Federal Protections for Same-Sex Married Couples

In May 2014, the Administration for Community Living (ACL), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services,  issued guidance applicable to all ACL grantees concerning the federal government’s policy on same-sex marriages following the Supreme Court Decision in  United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013).[1] The Court in Windsor found that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) impermissibly discriminates against same-sex couples who have been lawfully married in accordance with the laws of a given state.[2]

According to its guidance, the policy of the ACL is to treat same-sex marriages the same as opposite sex marriages to the “extent reasonably possible.”  In this regard ACL sets out the following:

  • ACL programs should recognize as family members individuals of the same sex who are lawfully married under the law of a state, territory, or foreign jurisdiction. This policy applies based on the jurisdiction in which the marriage was celebrated.[3]
  • ACL will recognize the marriage, regardless of whether the individuals are domiciled or reside in a state or territory that does not recognize the marriage.
  • When the ACL guidance discusses individuals of the same sex who are “legally married,” the intention is to include all legal marriages, regardless of the individuals’ current domicile or residence.

Programs affected by the ACL policy include (a) The Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities; (b) State Protection and Advocacy Systems under the Developmental Disabilities Act (“DD Act”), including their governing boards and advisory councils; (c) the National Network of University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities; (d) Projects of National Significance, including projects made through grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements; (e)  Help America Vote Act Protection and Advocacy Systems; (f) Home Delivered Nutrition Services; and (g)  the National Family Caregiver Support Program,

To the extent necessary, ACL states that it will revise its grant terms and conditions to incorporate its guidance.  The ACL’s full Windsor-related guidance is available at: http://www.acl.gov/Funding_Opportunities/Grantee_Info/docs/Community_Living_Guidance.pdf.


[1] The Slip Opinion in Windsor is available at: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/pdf/12-307.pdf.
[2] Ibid.
[3] ACL notes that there may be circumstances where a legal marriage from a foreign country is not recognized by any State or where the United States does not recognize the marriage. In this circumstance, ACL states that that its guidance would not apply.